SYDNEY, Australia — A prominent tech watchdog said Australian teenagers on Facebook can be profiled and targeted by advertisers promoting alcohol, smoking, gambling, adult dating sites, and extreme weight loss.
While underage Facebook users can’t be served alcohol, cigarette, or gambling ads specifically, a report by Reset Australia has identified a loophole that allows underage profiles to be targeted based on these interests.
Reset Australia works to counter digital threats to democracy and is demanding more excellent data protection for teens.
Facebook builds profiles based on interests and then sells access to these profiles to advertisers for direct, targeted advertising. Reset Australia chief executive Chris Cooper said Facebook appears to use teens’ data in the same way as adults.
It found it costs advertisers AUD 127 ($98.39) to target 1,000 underage profiles with interest in smoking, AUD 38 ($29.44) to target 1,000 underage profiles interested in extreme weight loss, and just AUD 3 ($2.32) to target 1,000 underage profiles interested in alcohol.
The report found Facebook allowed advertisers to target teenage profiles based on a range of questionable interests, from smoking, gambling, and alcohol to dating status.
It said the targeted nature of the ads is different from kids’ incidental viewing of ads.
“A school bus with a beer ad on the side of it can’t pick a kid interested in underage drinking and then follow them throughout their day. But a targeted, granular ad will be in their phone, monitoring their activities and ready to target them every time they use social media,” Cooper said.
Reset Australia ran a controlled experiment to see what oversight Facebook had over underage profiling.
It found Facebook-approved content targeted at teenagers included vaping, cocktail recipes, gambling games, political extremism and Q-Anon references, extreme weight loss, and adult dating.
“This opens a can of worms about just how Facebook profits from underage data, and exactly what protection they have against inappropriate targeting,” Cooper said.
“Should a 13-year-old who lists their single status be getting targeted ads for a sugar daddy dating service?”
“We need some ground rules to protect how young people’s data is collected and used, especially given we don’t know the long-term ramifications of unchecked data harvesting,” he said.
“We asked our survey respondents two-third how they felt about profiling. Almost two-thirds of respondents expressed disapproval of profiling for commercial advertising purposes, sharing negative emotional responses, calling it as wrong or invasive, or wanting better regulation to curb the practice, “the report said.
Reset Australia advocates for a data code for children as part of the federal government’s privacy review.
Facebook has been contacted for comment.
(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Ojaswin Kathuria.)
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